The Foreign Office has become a laughing stock, leaving tour operators to manage risk

kenya
African countries such as Kenya rely on tourism for income Credit: Getty

When it comes to Covid-19, there is an element of the cure being more dangerous than the virus. And as the Foreign Office becomes a laughing stock with its sweeping travel ban that makes no considerations for countries that have worked hard to reduce their Covid-19 cases to single figures; the surge in insurance companies offering policies that cover travel against Foreign Office advice is further proof of the nonsensical nature of this blunt instrument.

So much so that we – a tour operator organising approximately 450 annual safari and beach holidays to 18 African countries – have been left with no choice but to run our own risk assessment for the destinations we operate in.

At no point does Aardvark Safaris intend to put any clients or guides and camp staff at risk but we do require our Foreign Office to work with us to open sensible air corridors where they can and reduce the quarantine with efficient and effective airport testing – as outlined in the Telegraph’s Test4Travel campaign, which is requesting policy change driven by common sense.

The UK Foreign Office has taken away our liberty of making fair and informed decisions. It needs to regain some confidence if its advice (and we need to remember that it is just “advice”) is ever to be taken seriously again. It needs to look at each country as a standalone destination and apply fair consideration. Africa is being treated like one country rather than a continent with 54 countries (you can currently only travel to St Helena without quarantine).

The lack of faith in this continent which is used to (and very effective at) dealing with outbreaks of infectious diseases is insulting. Recent travellers have commented that the strict protocols in place at Africa airports, safari camps and hotels make the UK look hopeless. One traveller had his temperature taken over 18 times in a week. They are doing everything they can to keep their countrymen safe.

There are a number of countries that have now fallen well below the 20 per 100,000 and have effective testing in place. South Africa’s numbers are falling nearly as quickly as they increased and they are now well within the UK government's stated safety numbers. In fact, going on a naturally socially-distanced safari is considerably safer than heading to many parts of the UK.

This will not only allow us to make our own choices, it will keep travellers safe and stop what could be potentially a huge humanitarian crisis unfolding. In Kenya alone, seven million people – a third of the working population – work in tourism, each supporting between seven and eight dependants.

Allowing travellers to visit Kenya (which has a current infection rate of 1.7 per 100,000) would do a lot more good than any aid handout. These safe countries need tourists for employment, conservation, anti-poaching and positive mental health.

Aardvark Safaris is undertaking substantial Covid-19 training to understand the situation in each country and the measures being deployed in any public areas and accommodation – even bedrooms on safari are being disinfected up to three times a day and we are only recommending camps and lodges that have these strict policies in place. Our guests have had nothing but praise for the health and safety measures, and delight at how they have some of these pristine wildlife areas to themselves.

We are selling safaris to countries that are open and safe. We have the most up to date information on how each country in East and Southern Africa is handling Covid-19 and what protocols are in place. As a specialist African tour operator with incredible contacts on the ground, we are well positioned to help educated clients to make informed decisions on where is best for them to travel with regards to their health and safety. 

While we do to not encourage or condone behaviour that would be detrimental to public health, it has become clear that the Government's quarantine policy is astonishingly destructive to communities dependent on tourism for their livelihoods. Countries throughout Africa have opened up for international tourism and have all the necessary safety measurements in place.

We need a sensible approach going forward which allows air bridges to countries with low case numbers and a form of testing on arrival from other countries to allow people to keep travelling without a prohibitive 14-day quarantine.

Alice Gully is co owner of Aardvark Safaris.